First base: financial services; second: energy and natural resources; third: shipping; fourth: media. This US firm scores a home run for variety, and does it all with a smile.
Swing for the fences
You’ve decided you’ll take a swing at trainee life in the City. Stepping up to the plate, you face a series of pitches from an all-American line-up. One by one you smash them away – ‘too straight, too predictable’ – or leave them as they fly wide of the mark – ‘too fast-paced.’ But Reed Smith delivers a curveball to admire. Hailing from Pittsburgh, its culture differs from the high-octane US-firm stereotype. But then, it’s not much like elite London firms either. One trainee summarised: “I know the culture I do well in and other firms I visited, including all the magic circle firms and other American firms, were full of exactly what I hate: overly A-type, overly pushy people.” At Reed Smith, “there’s high-pressure, international work, but everyone’s so… smiley.”
And the curveballs keep coming: London is Reed Smith’s largest office, despite its deep roots in US heavy industry and trade. The fulsome population lends Reed Smith the feel of a mid-size London firm… with a large international network behind it. Then there’s the work on offer: “The firm has very developed niche practices that are harder to replicate across the City: shipping, for example.” Strong media, insurance and commodities teams fall under that bracket too, and all four get kudos from Chambers UK. The firm covers most of the usual bases – i.e. litigation, mid-market M&A, and real estate – in impressive fashion as well.
“The firm has very developed niche practices that are harder to replicate across the City."
The firm’s continued to shake things up over the past year too, whether it’s the launch of a new LLB programme at the University of Exeter (including a year’s placement at the firm); an office opening in energy hotspot Dallas; or an 18% boost in revenue for 2018/19 on the previous year.
All bases covered
Aside from the wide range of departments, subgroups and supervisors juniors can choose from, trainees are encouraged to do a secondment. For some this occurs with a client, which trainees must interview for. For others it means jetting off abroad to a choice of the Athens, Dubai, Paris, New York and Singapore office. Whereas trainees previously provided HR with their preferred seats at each rotation, ranked one to four, trainees can no longer rank their four choices. Each choice is theoretically given equal weight, though trainees sidestepped this by telling HR their preferences verbally. The reason behind this subtle change, thought one trainee, was that “it gives the firm a bit more flexibility – your choices, especially as a first-year, now aren’t so hard and fast.” Not everyone, after all, can sit in the extremely popular media team.
Reed Smith’s international shipping team is particularly strong in the UK and Asiafor both its litigation and finance work. Trainees can work in either the ‘transportation asset finance’ or ‘transportation litigation’ seats, which both take on aviation matters too. “Shipping is quite a traditional first-seat choice,” said one source. “It’s less popular for your fourth seat – it’s a bit too specialist at that point.” The team handles both wet and dry matters, working for major actors in the shipping world, from shipbuilders and shipowners, to P&I clubs (insurance associations) and commodity traders. On the contentious side the team represented the owners of the Al Khattiya, a liquid nitrogen gas carrier, in a $30 million claim for damages following a collision in UAE waters with the Jag Laadki, an Indian tanker. “A lot of my work,” said one transport litigation trainee, “would involve a client saying, ‘I want to sue. Can I sue?’ I’d then do very thorough research into traditional black letter law for an answer. It gives you good knowledge of contract law for later on.” Sources also recalled bundling and drafting submissions. “On high-value claims I would do a lot of fact-checking,” but aside from research, trainees spent a lot of time “managing matters. I had a lot of client contact, and you have to learn the formal side of written communication. It’s particularly formal in shipping!”
Asset finance meanwhile, was “a very busy seat. We work on the financing and refinancing for shipbuilding contracts and classic sales, purchases or leases of ships and aircraft. I usually managed the CP checklist, phoning clients to ask, ‘Could you send this to me?’ or ‘Can we discuss the wording of this comment?’” But one trainee felt it lacked legal intrigue. “It’s often just business as usual. There’s a lot of precedents on things like the sale of a vessel – it’s not going to be too different from the thousands of sales done before it. You’re just tweaking documents.”
"The timeline for a matter in this department can be three to five years from initiation to trial."
Reed Smith’s global commercial disputes team encompasses finance, insurance, white-collar crime, media and international arbitration. Trainees can experience all of these, or focus on one. Clients include impressive household names: Barclays, ITV and Debenhams have all used the firm, as has German gun manufacturer Hekkler & Koch and The Law Society. Cases can be mind-bendingly complex: “I did little bits of drafting on a pleading that was about a hundred pages long!” Lawyers recently advised Makor Group, a financial broker, as it sought the payment of 415 BitCoin (a smidge under $5 million to you and me) in the High Court from LGO Exchange, a cryptocurrency exchange.But trainees still experienced some decent exposure: “Me and a mid-level associate attended a case management conference without counsel, so I spoke directly to the client.” The small international arbitration sub-team boasts multinationals such as Glencore and Shell as clients, plus, given its work on investor-state disputes, the Republic of Kazakhstan. The team recently represented NUKEM Technologies, a German nuclear contractor, on construction and engineering disputes with the Lithuanian state-owned Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant around its decommission. Sources who’d chipped in on this work told us that “since the timeline for a matter in this department can be three to five years from initiation to trial it is rare that trainees would be able to see the trial in action. Instead you have submission deadlines, and as a trainee you help on the research and drafting of that submission.”
The corporate team brings in work from a similarly renowned clientele. With experience in the energy, technology, life sciences and defence industries, the lawyers’ client roster includes Sony, Channel 4, multinational agribusiness Bunge and big-time New York private equity firm Fortress Investment Group. The corporate team recently advised long-standing client Microsoft on its acquisition of Ninja Theory, the UK-based video games developer of Devil May Cry, Hellblade and Heavenly Sword. Partners in this team also bring in work from the real estate sector. The corporate team recently collaborated with their real estate colleagues to advise billionaire real estate investors the Reuben Brothers on the £300 million acquisition of Mayfair retail space Burlington Arcade. This was not a great seat for responsibility: trainees described “preparing meeting rooms for clients when there was a deal closing. Then day-to-day we did some general shareholder agreements and due diligence on large M&A matters.” Alongside M&A, trainees can also tackle some capital markets work.
That real estate team we mentioned also advised Reuben Brothers on the stonking £2.6 billion acquisition of Santander’s Spanish HQ. The team generally gets involved in all sorts of development and portfolio deals worth north of £100 million, some of which are international. Lawyers in the team also specialise in real estate finance, private equity and environmental law. “I was worked on the finance side of things as well as dealing with general property management,” recalled one trainee. The team recently supported investors M7 Real Estate on the €34 million financing of a Portuguese property portfolio acquisition. “Real estate is a great starting seat. Because they do a lot of similar property management stuff like leases and licences for alterations, after a month or so you’ll get your own matters: I ran the auction of a property by the end of my time there and I was able to liaise directly with the clients through meetings and phone calls.” Trainees can also turn their hand to contentious matters in this seat if they express a preference.
A whole new ballgame
The entertainment and media industry group encompasses film & television, music, gaming, social media and radio. The client roster includes the BBC, NBC and Soundcloud. “A lot of what we do is advisory and regulatory work, but we also handle pure transactional matters.” On the advisory side, “the team looks at big copyright directives from the EU or UK law changes to consider how they’ll affect companies.” The team also handles company names disputes, regulatory investigations, general contractual disputes, licensing disputes, and GDPR. One source summed up the media seat as being a “crossover with what you’d be doing as a corporate in-house lawyer.” The team recently advised Barclays on television financing deals for Hollyoaks, Celebs Go Dating, Naked Attraction and Black Earth Rising.
“It’s pretty fluid,” said a trainee in the energy and natural resources team. No, they weren’t talking oil; “the team has the full scope of transactional, litigious and regulatory work so as a trainee you’re given the freedom to get involved in each and every area.” Reed Smith recently advised Commonwealth Bank of Australia on the loan of $250 million to oil companies Shandong Qingyuan and Jiun Ching. Large energy producers, commodity trading companies and investment banks all line up as clients. “If you’re working on trade finance you’ll see deals through from their proposal to closing. Working on that includes drafting letters which go out to local counsel, research into points of law and sitting in on phone calls with clients and other parties to make sure their comments are addressed when we come to revise drafted documents.”
Stepping up to the plate
An average day in the office tended to run from 9am to 7.30pm, but it was the top end that sparked debate. The majority of trainees preferred their litigation hours compared to the hours in transactional seats. “Despite having to work three weekends on the trot, and regular 11pm finishes for three weeks, I could predict a month out how busy I would be. Litigation is calendar driven with occasional hard periods.” Other City firms work longer on average, but trainees’ hours can still be grisly: a 6am finish was the worst we came across. “The team is good about those spells: you can get a day off in lieu, though it’s not firm policy.”
"The firm doesn’t just want you to have done an LLB from Oxford."
Little touches like this grounded trainees’ claims about the softer side to Reed Smith which we mentioned in our introduction. One trainee reckoned: “It helps that many lawyers work in slightly niche practices. It means there’s no sense of hyper-competitiveness within the firm across industries, because partners are experts in their own subject matter.” Another highlighted “the different backgrounds here.The firm doesn’t just want you to have done an LLB from Oxford. We’re a firm of creative thinkers. My intake has people from Queen Mary’s, Bristol, Newcastle, Sussex and Warwick.” Insiders also informed us of some developed diversity initiatives, such as the LGBT+ network, PRISM, which hosts a summer party to champion inclusivity to its clients. Its 2019 edition invited Global Butterflies, an organisation working on trans inclusivity.
More irreverent partying included fortnightly pizza and drinks events in corporate, bi-monthly associate lunches – “we’re seen as future associates, which is sweet” – and a cocktail-making social in employment. Most meet-ups revolve around either the trainee intake, or a specific team. Love for the firm’s Broadgate Tower office, however, was universal. Trainees described how “you walk out of the lifts, see the spectacular views and go ‘woah.’” Basically, make sure to pay a visit if you can. “I missed those dramatic sunsets over London when I went on secondment,” lamented one trainee.
Some wanted “certain departments to have more training at the start – your knowledge is sometimes assumed when you’re more senior.” But this ultimately didn’t harm trainees because “here you can say when you don’t understand.” Since trainees sit with their supervisor (often a partner), “you can glean so much good advice from them. Everyone is generous with their time, and is appreciative of the fact that you’re learning.” That learning process is noted in trainees’ qualification applications too: “We’re asked to provide our CV, covering letter and appraisals for the first three seats. The appraisals could be ad hoc feedback collected from emails and this all goes in to what’s called a qualification bundle.” But trainees must jump through one last hoop to find a job with the firm, either interviewing, or carrying out a case study. “There have normally always been more jobs available than NQs,” but competition can be fierce. That comes down to what’s popular among that year’s intake – in 2019 the firm retained 17 of its 25 qualifiers.
Juniors can apply for client secondments at Bauer Media and Barclays Asset Finance. There are even pro bono secondments available with Liberty or Reprieve.
How to get a Reed Smith training contract
Reed Smith LLP
20 Primrose Street,
- Partners 118*
- Fee earners: 252* (excluding partners, but including trainees)
- Total trainees: 51
- *denotes UK figures
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices Abu Dhabi, Athens, Beijing, Century City, Chicago, Dallas, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, Kazakhstan, Los Angeles, Miami, Munich, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Princeton, Richmond, San Francisco, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, Singapore, Tysons, Washington DC, Wilmington.
- Graduate recruiter: Holly Allen Graduate Recruitment Manager [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 25
- Applications pa: 1,500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20-22
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: TBC*
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: TBC*
- Vacation scheme applications open: TBC*
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: TBC* *please check the website
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £43,000
- Second-year salary: £47,000
- Post-qualification salary: £75,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: GDL: £6,000, LPC: £7,000
- International and regional
- Overseas seats: Dubai, Singapore, Athens, Paris
- Client secondments: Yes
Our long-standing relationships, international outlook, and collaborative structure makes us the go-to partner for the speedy resolution of complex disputes, transactions, and regulatory matters.
Main areas of work
We offer stimulating work in an informative, challenging and busy environment where your contribution counts from the year before you join, with our unique LPC/LLM programme, through to the end of your training contract. With four seats over two years, you choose the practice or industry group areas you would like to experience, as well as benefiting from a client or international secondment. Our intake per year is 25, meaning that at any given time, we will have 50 trainees in total. At Reed Smith, we encourage all trainees to partake in either a client or international secondment. There are a number of benefits we feel our trainees gain from doing so, including building commercial awareness and gaining knowledge of our clients, our industries and our business. There is a remarkable choice of secondments available for trainees. There are vacancies for training contracts commencing in February 2020 and beyond.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Banking Litigation (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 4)
- Construction: Supplier (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Employment: Employer (Band 4)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Information Technology (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 5)
- Pensions (Band 5)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 5)
- Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 5)
- Asset Finance: Shipping Finance (Band 3)
- Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 1)
- Commodities: Physicals (Band 1)
- Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 2)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 3)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory Recognised Practitioner
- Fraud: Civil (Band 5)
- Insurance: Mainly Policyholders (Band 1)
- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration Recognised Practitioner
- Media & Entertainment: Film & Television (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Gaming, Social Media & Interactive Content (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Music (Band 3)
- Shipping (Band 1)